***1/2 (out of 5)
February 8, 2013
Rooney Mara as EMILY TAYLOR
Channing Tatum as MARTIN TAYLOR
Jude Law as DR. JONATHAN BANKS
Catherine Zeta-Jones as DR. VICTORIA SIEBERT
Studio: Open Road
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The reaction I had to watching Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” was interesting because I felt like I needed to be put on bipolar medication. Because my enjoyment of the film bounced up and down throughout the movie. On the whole, there were more highs than lows, which made me ultimately like it, thought it’s not his best work, even in the past year. (Personally, I liked “Haywire” more.)
“Side Effects” tells the story of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who suffers from severe depression issues while her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is serving a prison sentence for insider trading. Her depression continues when he is released, so she starts seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). He prescribes several drugs, including the new-to-market Ablixa. Soon she starts to experience dangerous side effects, and Banks tries to discover what happened to save his career.
Like “Haywire,” “Side Effects” is Soderbergh’s attempt to make a formula film by not sticking to the formula. In essence, it is a standard crime thriller. However, using his low-key docudrama approach, “Side Effects” comes off quite different than the many other procedural television shows and movies you’ve seen over the year. This makes the film unique to watch.
The shooting style and filmmaking techniques remind me a lot of Soderbergh’s recent film “Contagion,” with drugs being the villain rather than the hero. It has very similar pacing and delivery, though “Side Effects” eventually moves back into the genre cliches more than “Contagion” did.
There’s quite a number of twists and turns in the film, not just in the plot itself but in the essence of what the movie is. It starts out as a standard Soderbergh character study, but by the third act it’s clearly in thriller territory. However, even though the film jumps from tone to tone and genre to genre, it never quite feels as tired as the standard film of its kind would.
That’s what saves it, actually. It’s freshness keeps the movie alive, even when the plot twists are as silly and unbelievable as they tend to get.
The trailers would have you believe that this is Rooney Mara’s movie, and it is for the first half or so. However, the movie seems to shift main characters as it does tone and genre. In the end, it’s Jude Law’s movie, and I was okay with that.
Soderbergh casts actors he has worked with before, including Law (“Contagion”), Tatum (“Magic Mike” and “Haywire”) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Traffic”). Rooney Mara is new to his crew, but like Law and Zeta-Jones, she has an Oscar nomination under her belt (which is something Tatum doesn’t have and is unlikely to get anytime soon). With a cast like this, it’s not a guaranteed good movie, but it certainly helps hold the film together.
Still, it’s nowhere near a perfect movie. Like most contrived thrillers, there’s a point where the film breaks down. When all is revealed, and you find yourself thinking about the movie later, you’ll discover plenty of holes in the plot… some quite significant.
This goes to show that Steven Soderbergh isn’t a perfect director. This film, like most popcorn movies, is best viewed facing forward the entire time. If you look back, you’ll see quite a mess.
“Side Effects” isn’t exactly what you expect, no matter what you happen to expect from the film. It’s got a good tone, and it keeps things interesting, no matter which direction the movie is going at the time.